Cat. 3, Activism 9 – BL-46 – Champion of the Bengal Tiger

Cat. 3, Activism 9 – BL-46 – Champion of the Bengal Tiger

Ch. 46 –  Champion of the Bengal Tiger

My third expedition to India, in 1999, was part-bitter, part-sweet, but all memorable.

The first bitter part I did not even taste until I had returned to Canada, when my mother told me that my sister Wendy, who was in Hong Kong, had been brain-injured by a runaway garbage truck shortly after my arrival in India, and had lost components of her higher brain functions. I was shocked. I asked my mother why she didn’t tell me about it when it happened. She said, “What is the point of burdening you with something you can’t do anything about? I’ve told Nelson (my brother in law) about not telling you till now. He understands.”

The second bitter part was when we arrived at Bandhavgarh to participate in their Regional Tiger Conference, myself serving as keynote speaker by invitation, we were told by a subdued staff that their much beloved tigress Sita and her two near-grown cubs had gone missing and were assumed poached. Some of the staffers had tears glistening in the camp fire light when the story was being told to us. Sita was 17 and was a terrific mother, having successfully raised seven litters of cubs when she disappeared. Some of the rangers weren’t much older, and had literally grown up with her. Even I had a personal connection with her – she made a cameo appearance in the CHAMPION OF THE BENGAL TIGER documentary (google “Anthony Marr tiger”). From my outsider’s viewpoint, for a total tiger population of less than 40, Bandhavgarh could not afford to lose three tigers a year, if not more!

Picture by Anthony Marr at Bandhavgarh NP 1999

To balance the above, the first sweet part, also on the family level, was that my niece Melissa, the only child of Matthew and Linda, who was then an MBA, just gave birth to her third child.

The second sweet part was our hugely successful event in New Delhi on St. Valentine’s Day – the LOVE-THE-TIGER WALK. It was covered by a dozen Indian newspapers (see below), and reportedly attended by 5000 people, mostly students of the dozen New Delhi schools I had spoken at. So, it was even more of a blast than our SAVE-THE-TIGER-WALK-97 in Vancouver. It was a resounding success, literally, “resounding” in terms of our Save-The-Tiger song. It was sung to the Frere Jacques melody, but in Tim Murphy’s words:

I (leading the march): Save the tigers!
5000 kids (following behind me, holding up huge golden banners full of tiger-slogans created by them): SAVE THE TIGERS!!!

I: They’re our friends!
5000 kids: THEY’RE OUR FRIENDS!!!

I: The tigers are in trouble!

I: Let’s help them!
5000 kids: LET’S HELP THEM!!!…


We marched right across town, through India Gate, with police escort. The profile of tiger preservation was raised stratospherically on Valentine’s Day, 1999.

The Save-The-Tiger song was also sung at all schools Tim and I visited in Canada and the US, including the 60 in 1997.

February 1999
Travel Talk magazine, India TT Bureau


… “A conscious effort has to be made to make the villagers aware of the hazards of deforestation, overgrazing and poaching, and their consequences on the whole ecological balance,” said Marr.

His Save-the-Tiger campaign has introduced new eco-friendly techniques for resource conservation, like solar cooking devices and biogas to wean the villagers from their dependence on wood-fuel…

Marr also feels that the entry fee to the Indian wildlife sanctuaries should be raised manifold, for foreign tourists at least, to be shared with the locals of the area and to maintain the reserves…

February 12, 1999
The Hindu, national, India


… Mr. Marr, who is of Chinese extraction, is apologetic about the role of his country of origin in making the tiger a haunted animal… The Chinese make medicines out of tiger parts and, in the process, import as many as 300 dead tigers from India and Russia a year…

Owning up to his birth country is the penitent Mr. Marr when he says that he is paying the penalty for his countrymen by campaigning (against this part of the Chinese tradition)…

… In the Pink City (Jaipur), Mr. Marr lectured to 2500 school children in three schools. In Delhi, he had a captive audience of children in 10 schools. He is convinced that children are India’s hope for its national animals the tiger…

February 14, 1999
The Asian Age, India


… According to official estimates… tiger numbers have dwindled from 3,750 in 1993 to 3,000 in 1997. After the initial success of Project Tiger, the 90s have seen a drastic fall in tiger numbers. The tiger population in reserves around the country stands at 1,333 in 1995…

February 15, 1999
The Statesman, India


An unusual “Valentine Day” message was displayed by tiger enthusiasts in the Capital who went on a brisk march from Delhi Zoo to the headquarters of Project Tiger at Bikaner House, to spread the message of conservation.

Children and adults held up banners for the “Love Tiger Walk”… (Organizers) pointed out that the largest cat n the world today has a mortality rate of two per day in the world and one per day in India alone.

“Especially as a tigress does not have another litter till her young can support themselves, it is so much necessary to support the ones which are alive, as they do not breed rapidly like other species,” said a child who participated in the march.

A video show, an inflatable tiger blimp and presentations by eminent conservationists including Mr. Anthony Marr of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee and Mr. Pradeep Sankhala of Tiger Trust – sponsors of the event…

February 15, 1999-02-15-1
The Hindu, national, India


… A team comprising Mr. Anthony Marr, campaign director of WCWC… has been making slide presentations, holding video shows and having interactions inside a 50-feet inflatable tiger balloon…

They have been received with great enthusiasm by more than 5,000 students of various age groups. Painting competitions and slogan contests have also been organized as part of the campaign.

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The Pioneer, national, India

“Wildlife lovers walked through the busy streets of the national Capital on Valentine’s Day on Sunday to show their love for the tiger, which faces the threat of extinction…”

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February 15, 1999
The Hindustan Times, national, India

A 50-foot balloon tiger at the National Zoological Park to generate awareness among the masses for the conservation of the tiger…

February 16, 1999

Delhi Times, The Times of India, national

They sit inside it and discuss its decimation from the face of the planet. It’s 50-foot long and 12-foot high and is made of parachute material that can inflate. Striped bright yellow and black, this tiger was (brought to India) by Mr. Anthony Marr of WCWC for a Save-the-Tiger campaign to generate awareness on tiger conservation amongst school children…

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February, 1999
Tiger Link, India, global

…The participants chanted slogans and sang a tiger conservation song lead by Mr. Anthony Marr, Tiger Campaign Director, WCWC…

At Bikaner House the gathering was addressed by Mr. P.K. Sen, Director of Project Tiger, Mr. S.C. Sharma, Addl. Inspector General Forests (Wildlife), Angarika Guha, Class III student from Sri Ram Public School, Mr. Anthony Marr and Mr. Pradeep Sankhala, Chairman of Tiger Trust…

March 18, 1999

The Hitavada (“The oldest and largest circulated English daily in Central India”)


– Anthony Marr educating children about protecting the majestic and beautiful tiger

… Mr. Marr who is tirelessly working in India… said that the tiger is the greatest national treasure of India, but even more so, it is a global treasure that is revered the world over. “Though it belongs to no individual, its loss would impoverish us all.”…

… Mr. Marr said that the Royal Bengal tiger might look the most secure of all remain subspecies, but in truth, it is no more secure that the last carriage of a crashing train…

Currently, Mr. Marr, along with (Canadian volunteer) Anne Whitman and…

(Indian conservationist) Faiyaz Khudsar are battling to educate the people living around the Kanha and Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserves…

India Travelogue

… many organisations and well-meaning people have come forward and are working dedicatedly to save the big cats. Consider the case of Anthony Marr, a Canadian who is working with WCWC . With a grant from CIDA, Marr is helping Kanha National Park in India safeguard its tiger reserve. In a land where women must walk several kilometres to collect firewood, 90,000 villagers living in the buffer zone surrounding this park eye its potential fuel and grazing land with envy.

“The park is like a feast laid out on a table surrounded by hungry people who are forbidden to touch,” says Marr.

The solution? Look after the people so that they will look after the tigers. Partnered with Tiger Trust India, the project is setting up free medical clinics and schools, building community bio-gas plants to show a practical alternative to firewood, and developing training and education programs for park guides and visitors, as well as village teachers, students and their families.

“The result will be more than just a change in local people’s attitudes towards tigers and parks. It will include a changed, more sustainable way of life.” Marr believes that no one should have the privilege of being devoid of responsibility. “What excuse will we give our children if we stand by, do nothing, and watch the wild tigers go extinct?”

June 2, 1999
The Daily New, Nanaimo, BC
by Valerie Wilson


… Anthony Marr… warns tigers are disappearing at an alarming rate. He is in Nanaimo this week to ask area school children to save the tiger from extinction.

“Your voice is important and you must speak out,” Marr told students of Uplands Park Elementary Tuesday. “You are very powerful if you want to make some changes in the world.”

Marr has been back in BC for about a month, after a 10 week working stint at tiger reserves in India. He brought home with him a breath-taking slideshow of the country’s landscape, tree and plant life, birds and animal life, and of course, photographs of the tiger he viewed at India’s Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Ranthambhore tiger reserves.

“A question I am asked often by adults is there are no tigers in Canada, so why should we be bothered,” Marr told student. “Very simply, the tiger is one of most beautiful animals in the world. If it becomes extinct, our world would be much less beautiful place. We all lose.”

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Nanaimo News Bulletin
by Erin Fletcher


“Children hold the key to the survival of the endangered tiger,” says tiger conservationist Anthony Marr…

To spread the word about the plight of tigers, Marr was visiting Nanaimo schools last week with a slideshow presentation, video, and a discussion in the hopes to stimulate an interest in tiger preservation among local youth.

Marr has been involved with tiger conservation since 1994. His passion takes him into the depths of India where he works to educate and promote the preservation of tigers…

The Vancouver Sun
by Alex Strachan


… In television awards, Andrew Gardner won best writing in an informational series for a segment of CHAMPIONS OF THE WILD featuring conservationist Anthony Marr and his efforts to draw attention to the plight of India’s Bengal tiger. Champion’s cinematographer Rudolf Kovanic was also cited for a segment about elephants…

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To round out my three Tiger-Years, let me present my op-ed piece published in the Vancouver Sun shortly after my return from India for the third and final time.

My inclusion of it is mainly for the record due to its author being me and the publication being the Vancouver Sun – the biggest newspaper in BC. It is a long and dry read, and not required reading in the context of this book, but does include info not mentioned above for those keenly interested.

With Dr. Faiyaz A. Khudsar and demo solar cooker near Kanha Tiger reserve in 1997.  I can easily say , without hesitation, that Faiyaz is one of my most respected humans on this planet.


Vancouver Sun
by Anthony Marr


VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada, May 14, 1999 (ENS) – The tigress was sleeping on her side in the undergrowth deep within Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh, the self-appointed “tiger state” of India. She was scarcely visible in the dense foliage with her camouflage of brown and white patches and shadowy black stripes. Within tail-flicking distance behind her was a half-eaten carcass of a wild boar. The tigress was not going anywhere, short of angrily bolting in fear of being stepped on by the elephant on which I was ensconced, which was indeed getting a little too close.

She tolerated our intrusion for a while, but when the elephant ripped a branch off the tree in whose shade she was resting, she finally had enough, rolled on all fours, gave us a chilling glare and emitted a hissing snarl that could not be ignored. I snapped the last of a string of photos and instructed the mahout (elephant driver) to beat a prudent retreat.

It was January this year, during my third expedition to India’s Kanha and Bandhavgarh tiger reserves as Western Canada Wilderness Committee’s (WCWC) tiger conservation program director. The program, with WCWC working in partnership with the Indian conservation group Tiger Trust (TT), is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency at $100,000 per year over three years. WCWC also generates further tiger conservation funds from its own 25,000-strong membership, hundreds of donors, educational outreach slideshows and its annual Save-the-Tiger Walk.

Of the original 100,000 to 150,000 tigers worldwide, only 4,000 to 5,000 remain with only three of the original eight subspecies surviving. The Bali tiger was extinct as of the 1940s, the Caspian tiger died out in the 1970s and the Javan tiger in the 1980s. Of the remaining subspecies, the Indian Royal Bengal tiger has the best chance of survival because there are still about 2,500 remaining compared with 1,000 Indo-Chinese tigers, 300 Siberian tigers, 300 Sumatran tigers and 20 South China tigers.

Wild tigers are dying at the rate of about two each day worldwide due to the dual cause of direct killing and habitat loss. By the same token, about one a day dies in India. At these rates, no wild tiger will be left anywhere in the world within a decade, and the Indian tiger’s security is but that of the last carriage of a crashing train – unless tiger conservation projects everywhere succeed big time, and very quickly. This is what I’m betting on, starting with our Save-the-Tiger Campaign.

In 1973 when Project Tiger was launched, with founder Kailash Sankhala as the first director, tiger trophy-hunting was banned and about 25 tiger reserves were created. Meanwhile, however, consumer countries like Japan, Korea and China continue to demand for more tiger bone and penis to supply their traditional medicine markets, and India’s human and cattle populations continue to sky-rocket – 980 million and 300 million today respectively.

These are the dual causes of tiger decline – habitat loss and direct killing. Direct killing refers to poaching for medicinal bone and penis, but also poisoning by villagers in retaliation for the occasional loss of cattle as tiger prey. Habitat loss encompasses deforestation and overgrazing. Currently, the biological contents of a miniscule three percent of India’s land mass are given any degree of protection, but even these “protected” areas are being eroded by government-condoned mining and logging, and by local villagers in desperate need of firewood for cooking and heating. Especially hard to solve is the overpopulation problem of India’s cattle, caused by their being milk-producers, beasts of burden, and, most importantly, sacred cows.

For each of these problems there are long-term and short-term solutions. The long-term solution is to re-kindle citizen pride in the tiger as a national symbol throughout India and especially to motivate the villagers who live around tiger reserves to become tiger conservationists themselves.

This is easier said than done. While I was there, India was consumed by cricket fever. If Indian tiger conservation could capture but one percent of this enthusiasm, I could retire.

During my two-week stay in urban India, I gave our tiger conservation slideshow, seen by more than 30,000 students in British Columbia, to 3,000 students of ten Delhi and Jaipur schools. The show did generate the same degree of enthusiasm, resulting in ten “tiger clubs,” which I aim to link with environmental clubs in schools in Canada.

What does it take to turn villagers into tiger conservationists? Consider first the villagers. During my eight-week stay in rural India, our WCWC/TT team, made up of TT field worker Faiyaz Khudsar, Vancouver volunteer Anne Wittman and myself, held six hour meetings with the leaders of about 120 villages of the 178 in Kanha’s Buffer Zone. The meetings included discussion, a slideshow and a two hour safari in the park – a place most of them have never seen.

Their most common concerns are crop plundering by park ungulates especially the cheetal deer and the wild boar, loss of cattle to tiger, insufficient compensation for both, the lack of irrigation, and, last but not least, the lack of financial benefit from the park.

Underneath these external factors is the general undertone of abject poverty that limits the villagers’ mindset to the here and now at the expense of tomorrow into which the path of conservation extends. The key to overcoming these difficulties is actually quite simple: to let long term conservation benefit them today.

One of the key components of this is to introduce alternative technologies, such as biogas plants and solar cookers, to replace wood as fuel. Bearing in mind that village women currently spend their daylight hours gathering fuelwood from far afield, then walking kilometers back to their villages or to townships to sell their 50 pound headloads for 15 rupees (55 cents) each, they would welcome alternatives that could allow them to stay at home and work on financially more rewarding and more eco-friendly cottage industries.

Our team trekked long distances through semi-jungle in Kanha’s Buffer Zone to access remote villages with our demo solar oven on one of our backs. The demo cooker was designed and made in Canada, but units are modified in India so they can be constructed out of local materials. With nine months of solid sunshine a year, India is well suited to this technology. In a multi-village conference at Bandhavgarh where I was one of the speakers, we signed up 23 villages who wished to try out our solar cooker, and further, five villagers signed up to learn to make the cooker on a commercial basis.

To combat the cattle overpopulation and overgrazing problem, we bought a special hybrid Haryanna bull that local people had been hankering for – one whose offspring yield ten times the amount of milk as the usual breeds. We provided it on a trial basis to a village named Chichrunpur on the periphery of Kanha tiger reserve – one of the 22 villages translocated from the Core Area into the Buffer Zone during the creation of the park. The villagers agreed to stall-feed the new bull and his offspring with fodder that can be grown on part of the land or obtained commercially, while gradually retiring the existing low quality breeding stock and neutering all their existing random-bred bulls. After a generation or two, the bull will be rotated to another village and another installed in his place. Stall-feeding is important because it frees the land from free-range overgrazing, protects the higher-quality animals from tiger predation, and makes cattle dung readily available for biogas (methane) generation – another alternative fuel technology.

Regarding the tiger reserves, the general sentiment of the villagers is that they are little more than rich peoples’ playgrounds that provide little financial benefit to them save a few jobs in the park service, and worse, produce deer and wild boar that plunder half their crops without adequate compensation from the park authorities. In view of this, we recommended reforming the park system so that the reserves can at least compensate for themselves. Consider this: the world renowned Kruger National Park of South Africa charges $25 US per visit, Uganda charges US$180 for one hour of Mountain gorilla viewing. Neighbouring Nepal’s Chitwan National Park grosses US$800,000 a year. Half goes to improve park services, including anti-poaching, and half goes to a benefit fund managed by the villages themselves, which helps to preserve the park as their benefactor.

In contrast, the Indian tiger reserves charge foreign tourists only US$2.50 for a full day park visit. Indian visitors, mostly wealthy people from other states, pay just 25 cents. We advocate using Chitwan as a model by raising the park fee by a factor of ten for both foreign and out-of-state Indian tourists, while offering local villagers free park access on a limited basis. Half the increased revenue could go to park services which could generate more employment, and half could go to the villages to compensate for crop plundering and finance cottage industry enterprises such as manufacturing solar cookers. This gives the villagers a real control over their own destiny.

The park officials, villagers and tourists we have spoken with at both Kanha and Bandhavgarh by and large wholeheartedly embraced the proposal. We further pointed out that tigers are in fact their benefactors, since they keep the wild ungulate populations down by several thousand a year, and tigers are what tourists from around the world pay the park fee to see.

While at Bandhavgarh, we were dismayed to discover that the tigress Sita, made world famous by the cover article in the December 1997 issue of National Geographic, had disappeared. Her loss is most likely due to poaching. More than five other tigers out of a supposed population of only 45 have also vanished, all within the last six months. The entire park was in a state of subdued uproar, with fingers pointed in various directions.

Only yesterday I heard from Faiyaz Khudsar that 10 tiger skins and four tiger skeletons were recently seized in the Kanha District capital Balaghat. Some officials would deny it, but commercial poaching is alive and well at both tiger reserves. The proposed park reform should strengthen their anti-poaching measures.

During our visit, we maintained the medical clinic and free school we installed at the Tiger Trust Conservation Centre at Kanha in 1997. The school and clinic services three nearby villages. In the whole of Kanha’s Buffer Zone there are only four medical clinics including our own, all with similar effective ranges. Of the 178 Buffer Zone villages, no more than a dozen have access to any medical service.

For the rest, we introduce local medicinal plant cultivation and use by means of our demonstration medicinal plant garden. We intend to establish a mobile clinic to benefit more villages in due course. From their perspective we are a foreign adjunct to the park system, and they likely would give some credit to the tiger reserves for any benefit they receive from us.

Finally, we can all learn something from India’s experience. Tiger trophy hunting was not banned until there were fewer than 2,000 tigers left, in spite of which the Indian tiger may still perish. Currently, most independent biologists agree that there may be as few as 4,000 Grizzly bears in British Columbia, regardless of how many more the prohunting BC government claims there are. If we do not ban the Grizzly bear hunt here in our own backyard immediately, our Grizzly bears may go the same way as the highly endangered Indian tiger, or worse, the extinct Bali, Caspian and Javan tigers.

@ Environment News Service (ENS) 1999. All Rights Reserved.


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